Is It A Blackhead? Is It A Whitehead? Is It A Pimple? What’s The Difference?

by Gio

difference between blackheads whiteheads pimples

What do blackheads, whiteheads and pimples all have in common?

They’re all types of acne. They’re all terribly annoying. And they all make an appearance at the worst of times (usually together – they’re friends like that).

They all have a jolly good time on your face (or back, or chest, wherever), but you just want them to disappear ASAP. The key here is knowing your enemy. They may all be types of acne, but they’re all a bit different and need to be dealt with separately.

Here’s your plan of attack for each of these nasty buggers:

What causes breakouts?

You know another thing all forms of acne have in common? They all begin with clogged pores.

Here’s how it works. Your sebaceous glands pump out more sebum (the skin’s natural moisturizer) than it can naturally flow out of the pores.

The excess sebum remains trapped inside the pores, where it gets entangled with dead skin cells. Together, they form clogs. That’s when a breakout occurs.

But, whether it’s a blackhead, a whitehead or a pimple depends on what else is going on inside the pores.


What are they?

A type of acne that’s NOT inflamed.

Why do they happen?

Excess sebum, dead cells and other gunk get trapped into the pores near their openings. Here all that gunk gets lots of fresh air, which has a weird effect on it. Air oxidizes it and turns it a black. So, nope, the colour has nothing to do with dirt. That’s just a myth.

How do you get rid of them?

  • Exfoliate with salicylic acid. It gets inside the pores, removing all that crap from within.
  • If that doesn’t work, ask your derm to do a BHA peel. That’s a stronger dose of salicylic acid, so it should do the trick.
  • Stay away from scrubs and pore strips. They only get rid of the top part of the blackhead. You know, the part on the surface on the skin. But the gunk inside is still there and will give you another blackhead soon enough.

Best Picks:

Related: Why I Don’t Use Pore Strips (And You Shouldn’t Either)


What are they?

A pimple that’s NOT inflamed.

What do they happen?

The story begins in the same way. Excess sebum and dead cells clog the pores. But, this time, the opening of the pore is so small, air can’t oxidize it. That’s what it remains white.

How do you get rid of them?

  • Again, your best bet is a salicylic acid-based exfoliant (see above).
  • If that doesn’t work, have your derm remove them.

Shop Salicylic Acid Exfoliants

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Unclogged Pores And Blemish-Free Skin


What are they?

Red bumps with a raised white, pus-filled tip.

Why do they happen?

When a clogged pore is under too much pressure, it ruptures. That’s not even the worst of it. Then, it becomes infected with bacteria. Then, it gets inflamed. That’s when the pus is pushed to the surface of the skin.

How do you get rid of them?

    • In mild cases, a salicylic acid-based exfoliant will do the trick too.
    • In severe cases, opt for a spot treatment with benzoyl peroxide. Its exfoliates and kills the bacteria that causes acne.
    • If you’re looking for a more natural solution, go with a spot treatment with sulfur. It reduces oiliness, exfoliates skin and kills the bacteria that gives you acne.

Best Picks:

Shop Anti-Acne Products

How do you deal with blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples? Share your tips and fave products in the comments below.



Regn June 17, 2014 - 7:45 pm

My skin is normal to dry, but my hair is really oily. Because of that, I usually get breakouts around my hairline and the skin in that area seems quite oily too. It drives me so mad since I don’t really know what products to use. What I usually do is that I don’t moisturize the problem area at all, but is that right?

Gio June 17, 2014 - 9:09 pm

Regn, not everyone needs a moisturizer. What this product does is simply add water back to the skin, or prevent it from evaporating in the first place. If your skin doesn’t need the extra moisture, you could skip this step. But, I think you should consider using an exfoliant with Salicylic Acid on the affected area. That will keep oil production under control so that it won’t clog the pores and cause breakouts.

Anonymous Helper May 6, 2016 - 2:23 am

That same thing happened to me. I not only got acne on the hairline, but also around the eyebrows. However, I got a godsend with “fantastic for men tea tree shampoo and conditioner.” I don’t think it will matter that it says “for men.” I highly urge you to try it.

Gio May 8, 2016 - 8:56 pm

Anonymous Helper, thanks for the tip. Tea tree oil is amazing indeed for acne, and is much gentler than most treatments too.

Donna April 28, 2016 - 5:43 am

Sometimes I wash my face with a deep conditioning soap and when I’m done I use a hot damp towel and whip my face and it usually takes the oil out my face

Gio May 1, 2016 - 1:11 pm

Donna, glad you’ve found something that works for you. Thank you for sharing.

Kris pendarvis May 10, 2016 - 9:25 pm

For people with oily skin I recommend the clean&clear Oil absorbing acne cleanser. I will take a shower at night and wake up for school by the time I’m dressed I notice if I rub a finger in the cress of nose my finger will shine but with the cleanser I don’t notice oil until around 3 in the day and I come from a blood line with American Indians so my face gets oil bad so it should work

Gio May 12, 2016 - 9:16 pm

Kris, that’s amazing. So glad you’ve found something that works for you. Thanks for sharing.

Gerina June 9, 2016 - 7:52 pm

What do you mean you can’t squeeze whiteheads? I squeeze mine gently, “bottom to top”, with clean hands and the gunk usually comes out. And yes, I’m talking about whiteheads (closed comedones with no head) and not pimples. I know the difference. Afterward I rub a tiny spot of benzoyl peroxide on the drained pore. As a result, I have no acne scars.

Gio June 10, 2016 - 12:15 pm

Gerina, I mean that there’s a high risk of scarring, so it’s best if you don’t. But, I’m glad you’ve found a way around that. Thanks for sharing.


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